Archive for Appropriations
Amongst a sea of highly politicized legislation introduced this Session, attacking everything from ballot access to women’s rights, dedicated legislators continue to bring forward bills aimed at creating common sense solutions and benefiting hardworking Montanans.
An undeniable problem in the United States is the cost of post-secondary education, and the hugely burdensome debt that accompanies the pursuit of bettering oneself. The total amount of student loan debt in the US is currently larger than the total amount of credit card debt.
This is inexcusable and does not reflect the values on which America was built.
Friday afternoon the House Education Committee heard House Bill 166, sponsored by Freshman Representative Amanda Curtis (D-Butte). HB166, which Curtis calls her “Win-Win” bill, would direct state lottery income from the general fund to a fund specifically for education, providing scholarships to resident students pursuing higher education. When Montanans originally voted on the lottery, the revenues were intended to benefit education, but this vision has since been lost. This bill is designed with that original intent in mind, and adds no taxes to accomplish its goal.
Curtis is a math teacher by trade, and has seen first hand the necessity of investing in Montana students. In her closing statements, Curtis said “every lottery player gets a ticket and hopes they’re going to win. Every student that comes out of high school with aspirations to get a college degree hopes they’re going to win too. We [as a legislative body] have a chance to help those odds along. We can’t do anything about the lottery odds, but we have a chance to increase the odds for our students.”
Montana’s economy is doing well, so let’s plan for the future by raising the bar even higher for access to education so our students can thrive in a state that clearly values their endeavors and offers them every opportunity for success.
When adjusted for cost of living and average income, the Montana University System is among the ten least affordable in the country.The average amount of state aid provided for students has dropped by almost 40% since 1996. Curtis’ bill would address a serious gap of financial aid between those who can afford to pay their own tuition and those with a low enough income to qualify for financial aid. A large majority of Montanans fall in this range, graduating with an average debt of $25,000 despite many of them working multiple jobs throughout their education.
Written by MDLCC Legislative Assistant Cassie Hintz
Veterans’ issues were one of the prevailing themes at the Montana Capitol today.
This morning, House Democratic Leader Rep. Jon Sesso’s bill that would authorize construction of the Southwest Montana Veterans’ Home in Butte was heard in the Senate Finance & Claims committee. Currently, the state has two veterans’ homes, one in Glendive and one in Columbia Falls (more on this one later). The state also has 108,000 veterans within its borders, 1/3 of which are in southwestern Montana.
With only the two existing veterans’ homes, veterans from Butte that go to live in one of these homes will be more than 200 miles from their family if they go to Columbia Falls and more than 400 miles from their family if they go to Glendive. These huge distances put barriers between our veterans and their families that continue to reside in their hometown. This can lead to isolation of our veterans.
If this home is constructed in Butte, veterans will have the opportunity to stay closer to their families. This will greatly improve their quality of life.
The committee overwhelmingly passed the measure. It now goes to the full Senate for debate.
Also today, the House State Administration Committee heard a resolution that would study the possibility of privatizing the Columbia Falls Veterans’ Home.
Earlier in this session, Republicans pushed a measure that would privatize the home and reduce the quality of care for veterans there. After public outcry and protests from Democrats, Republicans were forced to reinstate funding for the facility.
Opponents of the measure contend that this study is an attempt to open the door to covertly privatizing the home. They suggested that rather than privatizing and reducing the quality of care provided, the legislature should pursue other measures to ensure the home is running efficiently.
Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh’s (D-Helena) so-called “Bonding Bill” received approval from the Senate Finance & Claims Committee today. The bill would give communities the opportunity to invest in critical infrastructure and facilities, as well as create much needed jobs throughout the state.
The bill now goes to the full Senate for a floor debate. It has already received approval from the House, however it was amended in the Senate, so if approved by the Senate, the amendments must be agreed to by the House.
The bill would create or improve facilities throughout the state, including the MSU-Northern Auto Tech Center, the Southwest Montana veterans’ home in Butte and the University of Montana’s College of Technology in Missoula.
Both Democrats and Republicans have supported this bill as it has progressed through the legislature because of its short-term and long-term impacts. In the short-term, it would give communities much needed money to build these facilities and therefor create jobs and boost the local economy. The bill also provides long-term economic impacts as much of the money in this bill is slated to improve our colleges and universities. This will ensure that we continue to have a well trained workforce to fill the jobs of the future.
The House Appropriations Committee, today voted along party-lines to approve the GOP budget proposal that would devastate our public education system and universities, hinder our public health system and raise tuition on Montana university students.
The tragedy of the Republican party’s proposed cuts is that they are totally unnecessary. Governor Schweitzer presented Republican leaders with a budget that is fully paid for, without raising taxes on Montana families.
Unfortunately, the GOP has chosen to stick their collective head in the sand regarding our state’s economic recovery in an attempt to justify their drastic cuts. The GOP has refused to acknowledge that revenue coming into the state is increasing. They also refuse to acknowledge the devastating impact their cuts would have on our economic recovery.
Governor Schweitzer has made it clear that the money to fund our state’s vital services is there and the cuts the Republicans are making to schools and hospitals is a reflection of their values.
Even the Helena Independent Record has called the GOP out for the games they are playing with our state’s budget.
The budget is slated for a full House debate later this week. Montanans are urged to contact their legislators and ask them to restore the Governor’s budget, and pay for the vital services that Montanans depend on.
As we told you last month, the GOP has sought to reignite a fight that was settled in past legislative sessions. This time their assault is on the stream access rights Montanans currently enjoy.
Tomorrow, their assault moves forward as Rep. Welborn’s HB 309, which seeks to restrict access to hundreds of Montana’s streams and rivers, is heard in heard in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation committee. This is the last opportunity Montanans will have to comment publicly on this bill.
The Republican majority in the House has already pushed this bill through their chamber, however Senate Democrats, including Sen. Van Dyk who has long been a champion of stream access in the state, have vowed to put up a fight to stop it from moving any further.
Opponents of the measure have organized a rally set to take place just before the bill is heard in committee.
If this bill passes out of committee, Republicans will be one step closer to restricting Montanans’ right to hunting, fishing and recreating on our state’s waterways.